A Little Food Allergy Etiquette
I would imagine that being in unfamiliar territory around a person with a life threatening food allergy is about as awkward as it is having one. There is always an ambiguity about what the expectations are, and if you’re willing to work with them. My experience is that most people do not want to be a part of any accountability for themselves or their children, so our greatest struggle in our unique roles as FA (food allergy) parents has been consistency with relationships. It’s a constant struggle between trying your hardest to make social settings work, and throwing your hands in the air with frustration toward others.
So what is food allergy etiquette? It’s all about honesty, communication and compassion. FA parents plan ahead for everything, so there are very little allergen loopholes that can arise if you’re communicating with us. The goal is to keep our children plugged in socially without making them feel inadequate for circumstances beyond theirs and our control. What I’ve personally experienced as a FA Mom is so unjust and hurtful, and the person it affects the most is my daughter. She not only doesn’t get invited to most get togethers, but they are discussed in front of her as if she’s invisible, leaving her young emotions to question why she was excluded. Or, more specifically, why the people in her life chose food she’s deadly allergic to over including her in their lives.
I’ve mentioned frequently how mature and grounded she is, and she does handled the rejection well, but when it’s totally avoidable, it’s still hard to watch in silence. I thought it was about time to educate others on the very real need for some food allergy etiquette. This is my take on it, but I’m sure I’m not alone in these opinions.
First Rule of Etiquette:
When there are plans to get together, there must be open communication regarding snacks, food, and any possible contamination on clothes or body. You don’t have to be a scientist and discuss the eight syllable hidden milk ingredients, just be outwardly honest. A simple “hey, we ate pizza for lunch, but I changed the kids clothes and washed their hands” is a perfect response. We feel cautious, but comforted by the efforts and actions taken, and also know how to process the potential dangers when we know the cause. The worst thing we can hear is nothing, and be made to awkwardly and randomly question others. For the most part everything has milk in it, so sharing what form of it you’re exposing our child to is very important.
Second Rule of Etiquette:
When it comes to shared foods: let us make the executive decisions. I know it’s nice to have a handle on the hidden ingredients, and want to show us how you can pick a food that’s safe too, but don’t. We are never going to feel completely comfortable unless we know the steps we took and did it ourselves. It seems like a great idea to slice fresh fruit for the children to share, but you may not realize that you sliced a block of cheese in the same spot on on your counter earlier. Also, handing over an unmarked food and expecting us to magically know its ingredients is absurd. If something is not in its packaging it’s considered not safe. We don’t assume, this is why we make the decisions. Although We do appreciate the thought and desire to help, it’s much more comforting to take the reigns on this one. Micromanaging the food is our only line of defense and protection for our beloved children.
Third Rule of Etiquette:
Don’t decide what our kids can attend for us. Although it makes sense that we can’t make it to your cheeseburger cookout, if we consider each other close, we should still get invited. Let us explain to our kids that everyone wanted us there and why we chose not to go. Otherwise the underlying message becomes not only were we not invited, but that you chose food over friends/family. These are, again, learning platforms for our children, not judgement platforms for you and yours.
We don’t get invited to many holiday events or children’s birthdays, or we get the precursor about how there will be pizza and ice cream, but come if we’d “like” to. Even so, the countless times when my daughter has not been invited to things tends to be more hurtful than the fact that we can’t go. It is cruel. She know’s who’s birthday’s she can’t make the party to, but we still host celebrations in our safe way. We give our daughter a chance to be a part of her loved ones special moments in their lives, why don’t others see that?
Fourth Rule of Etiquette:
Do not talk about your distant opinion of the emotional toll that this food allergy “must have” in front of our children. Our children are developing their self-esteem and self worth, and are constantly being educated about their limitations. They do not need to be emotionally deconstructed for your entertainment and grasp on the matter, just for the sake of conversation. We wouldn’t talk openly with children present about weight problems, bad acne, autism, etc., so be mindful of what you say around FA children. They hear and grasp more than you would think. It is not that it isn’t valid to have questions and opinions, it’s more so that the children don’t need to constantly hear them. We focus on what makes us similar, and it seems that most people focus on what makes us different.
Food allergies are a huge part of my daughters life, but it doesn’t define who she is. Get to know her beyond her allergy and let’s talk about that. If there is something positive to come from discussing the allergy we do, but it is up to us to decide when it’s appropriate to do so.
Leading to the Fifth Rule of Etiquette:
Do not discuss future social events that our children cannot attend in front them. It is understandable to talk about the fun you had at the pizza party last night. It is quite another story to discuss the fun you’re going to have when we leave. Especially when we are leaving because you’re waiting to whip out the ice cream!
Sixth Rule of Etiquette:
DO educate yourself and your children. You don’t have to harp on what you can’t have or do around FA children. Teach and learn authenticity of what you CAN do. Don’t say “you can’t have that because of this FA child”, say “today we are going to have this and it’s going to be great!” We teach attitude toward others, and compassion is a building block of life.
Lastly, the Seventh Rule of Etiquette:
When our children are actually having an allergic reaction, please do not get involved unless asked to. Helping them through the reaction is most effective when done by us in a clear and calm way. Reactions can be very scary for us and our children, and the hovering and added drama definitely make things worse. It’s best that you stay calm and cheerful (from the sidelines.)
The fact is that children with food allergies are growing and the issue is getting more and more attention. This isn’t going anywhere so learning and teaching how to flourish together is of the utmost importance.
Of all of my food allergy etiquette rules for parents outside of the FA world, I have just as many for FA parents. They must be patient, understanding, humble and polite, even when it feels like they keep getting steam rolled. It’s going to take a lot of effort on both ends to keep it healthy and happy for everyone, but there has to be some rules to go by.
Writing thank-you notes can be daunting, but we do it anyway out of gratitude and appreciation for the thoughtfulness of others. Food allergy etiquette is proactive and rewarding because it has a direct impact on the well-being of others. People like to rest on the crutches of ignorance, but life is all about growing, adapting, and changing. Gandhi said to “be the change that you wish to see in the world”, I’d have to agree!
As always, find like-minded moms who connect with your lifestyle and core beliefs at Hello Mamas. It has worked for me and I know it will work for you! http://hellomamas.com